Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 98 | Septiembre 1989




Envío team

All young men in Nicaragua sooner or later pass through the ranks of the Sandinista army as they fulfill their two-year military service. The draft has been called a "political school" by some observers, and more than one has noted that there is no parallel collective experience for young Nicaraguan women. In an attempt to seriously address the situation of young women in Nicaragua, the Nicaraguan Women's Institute and the Sandinista Youth held a two-day national seminar in Managua at the end of July.

Women in the Countryside. One of the topics taken up was the situation of young women in the rural work force. Olga María Espinoza of the Farmworkers' Association (ATC), described some of the advances women in the countryside have made, and pointed to the continuing problems they face. Espinoza said that 17,000 of the 62,000 permanent rural workers are women. She underlined both women's integration into nontraditional tasks and access to sex education and family planning methods as two key achievements.

Espinoza also referred to what she called the tremendous "ideological problems" that block women's full participation in the work force. When the austerity measures early this year forced massive layoffs, Espinoza said that many administrators fired women first. She noted that women do not receive this preferential treatment when it comes to educational or training opportunities.

According to Espinoza, young women in the countryside live a marginal existence, completely subordinated to their fathers until they are married off, oftentimes as young as 14 years old. When these women face sexual harassment or other problems in the workplace, they are often too timid to confront the issue.

The Abortion Debate Rages On. The seminar also heard from Dr. Ana María Pizarro, head of the Intensive Care Unit at the Bertha Calderón Women's Hospital in Managua. Dr. Pizarro described cases of women who come to the hospital for treatment after receiving an "abortion" from a self-proclaimed neighborhood abortionist or at their own desperate hands. She recounted horror stories of women who have been left severely mutilated, along with accounts of women who have died because of abortions performed in unsafe conditions.

Thirty-seven women died between 1986 and 1988 because of poorly performed abortions. In 1989 to date, six women have died. Pizarro attributed the drop to the special attention that the staff at Bertha Calderón has been giving to the problem in recent months. Dr. Pizarro called on the government to decriminalize abortion, and accused the Ministry of Health of "closing its eyes to this dramatic situation.” She also said that some of the most traditional doctors, who speak out loudly against abortion, will gladly perform one if a woman can afford $300—an astronomical sum for most Nicaraguan women.

Ivonne Siú, head of the Nicaraguan Women's Institute, said that 21% of all mothers in Nicaragua are under 20 years of age. She ascribed this figure to the lack of an adequate and systematic sex education program for young people. In Nicaragua's urban areas, the average number of children per family is 5.3, while 7 is the average in the rural areas, for a total of some 149,000 births annually.

In her closing address to the seminar, Doris Tijerino, national chief of police and head of AMNLAE's executive council, stressed the need for a comprehensive family planning policy and sex education program in Nicaragua. She emphasized that the hardest barriers for young women to break are ideological, adding that "for that reason, our work must be ideological, we must carry out an effective struggle in this arena, just as we have in the military terrain."

The National Commission on Sex Education has completed the first Nicaraguan text on sexuality and sexual relations. The 48-page book, financed by the United Nations, will be used in high school classes throughout the country. The Ministry of Education has trained a number of teachers to lead workshops on the subject, using the book as a base.

The book's author, psychologist and well-known Managua feminist, Auxiliadora Marenco, said a second book is planned for the near future. She said the text treats the subject in a straightforward manner and is written in such a way that students can discuss sexuality—still largely a taboo subject—in an open way and come to an understanding of their own decisions and actions.

Alejandro Martínez Cuenca, minister of Nicaragua's Planning Secretariat, announced on July 31 that inflation for the month had hit a new low—8.5%. The figure backs up the government's contention that the 63% inflation rate in June was a fluke provoked by an error in extra payments to the coffee growers, and that the steady downward trend initiated by the austerity plan continues.

Martínez Cuenca said that a basic goods basket, composed of 53 items, had increased in price by 5.8% (a barely perceptible hike by Nicaraguan standards of the last two years or so) and called it a positive sign that the average workers' buying power is finally beginning to stabilize.

The black market, an informal barometer of the country's economic health, actually fell about 2,000 córdobas below the parallel exchange rate offered in government-authorized money changing houses. For the first time it became more profitable to exchange legally than illegally. Throughout much of July, a serious cash flow problem affected a number of banks and businesses, and the black market was no exception.

While the Ministries of Planning and Finance had predicted that about 25 billion córdobas would be in savings accounts for the month of July, the actual amount was over 29 billion, another factor contributing to greater monetary stability. This increase in long-term deposits was 25% over deposits held in June. Martínez Cuenca attributed this to the fact that it was more attractive, and easier, to save córdobas than buy dollars, exactly the reverse of the situation in June.

Martínez Cuenca also said that for the first time in years, the foreign exchange deficit was actually shrinking, which should give a boost to import-export activities in the coming months.

"BLACK MONDAY?" In late July, Gerardo Baltodano, vice president of Nicaragua's Central Bank said, "There will be no Black Mondays in August, and in fact we look forward to greater stability in the exchange rate and in the economy in general."

As the government was proudly proclaiming increased stability, Nicaragua's efficient rumor mill was hard at work. La Prensa hinted at a huge devaluation, along the lines of the June devaluations. This rumor was quickly picked up and passed along by food vendors, merchants throughout Managua's markets and many ordinary consumers who, badly bruised by the swings in the economic pendulum over the last two years, have come to expect the worst.

The last weekend of July, some merchants refused to sell any goods, claiming that they had to wait for the devaluation coming Monday (July 24) before they could estimate new prices.

During a De Cara al Pueblo program on July 23, President Daniel Ortega denounced La Prensa as printing "false information designed to provoke speculation," and accused it of trying to destroy the government's economic program. There was no devaluation on Prensa's forecast "Black Monday," or in the following three weeks before envío went to press.

The fate of many Nicaraguan peasants seems to swing crazily on a pendulum between floods, hurricanes and droughts. This year, a late and inadequate rainy season has left 11,000 peasant families severely affected by the drought conditions that have hit different pockets of territory throughout Nicaragua.

In Region II (León-Chinandega), the situation is particularly critical in and around Somotillo, where virtually the entire corn harvest has been lost. Certain areas of cotton cultivation, near Chacaraseca and La Ceiba, have also been hard hit. The traditional dry pockets of Region IV (Granada-Carazo) in and around Rivas and Tola are also severely affected.

In Region I (Las Segovias), the land surrounding Estelí has received regular rainfalls, but San Juan de Limay and La Trinidad have lost nearly all their crops, primarily basic grains. Close to 90% of the country's basic grains come from Region I. In Jalapa, which borders on Honduras, the rain has been so heavy and frequent that many of the beans planted earlier this year have rotted in the field.

The Ministry of Agriculture has asked for emergency assistance from the United Nations Food Program for the 11,000 affected families.

The Inter-American Court for Human Rights, based in San José, Costa Rica, ruled on July 21 that the Honduran government must pay indemnity costs of $700,000 to the families of two Hondurans disappeared by Honduran security forces in the early 1980s.

The two disappeared men are Manfredo Velasquez, a university student leader, and Saúl Godínez, an elementary school teacher. The court will oversee the payments to the two families. The Spanish news agency ACAN-EFE described the decision as the "first of its kind in the history of Latin America."

The Sandinista Youth organization has asked the Nicaraguan army to review some of its policies regarding implementation of the draft law, in effect since late 1983. All young men between the ages of 17 and 26 are required to serve two years military service, and the Sandinista Youth has been key in organizing volunteer battalions of young men to sign up.

In an August 2 meeting with General Humberto Ortega, Nicaragua's minister of defense, Sandinista Youth head Ajax Delgado reiterated his organization's support for the draft, but also called for more flexibility in the law’s implementation. Young men who are only children or are heads of household are protected by law from serving in the army. However, Delgado said that in some cases the army has not respected that law, and asked Ortega to review those cases.

The Sandinista Youth is also concerned that more flexibility be shown in the case of students—for example, allowing them to finish a semester before they leave for the mountains. Given the role that the Sandinista Youth will be playing in the 1990 elections, Delgado also asked Ortega to consider that as new calls for the draft go out.

General Ortega promised to review the cases and carefully consider the requests made by the Sandinista Youth. On August 3, President Daniel Ortega addressed the political parties meeting in a marathon National Dialogue session, announcing, among other things, that recruiting for the draft will be suspended for the duration of the electoral period (see "Election Watch" this issue).

Nicaragua's small but growing environmentalist movement sounded the alarm in early August when much of the western half of Managua was covered with a fine chlorine mist. As the wind changed, the chlorine was evident throughout much of the city.

Most people suspected Penwalt, a chemical plant that produces chlorine and sits on the shores of Lake Managua. Penwalt dumps toxic waste directly into the lake, including mercury, a by-product of chemical fertilizers it produces. María Luisa Robleto, a biologist who heads up the Nicaraguan Environmental Movement, pointed out that Penwalt does not take into account the Health-related costs being paid over the long term by residents of those neighborhoods situated near the plant.

Penwalt is part private (US owners) and part state-owned. Because of the Central American Common Market economic initiative in the 1960s, Nicaragua began to produce many of the chemicals needed for agricultural cultivation throughout the region. Penwalt currently exports to the other Central American countries, and is a steady source of foreign exchange for the country.

The final verdict was that the cloud was caused not by an escape of gas, but by an unusual combination of atmospheric condition. Nonetheless, those in the immediate vicinity of the plant may be exposed to daily and dangerous levels of chlorine. The Ministry of Health ordered the plant closed for several days, and environmental activists called for stiffer oversight of Penwalt
and other chemical plants in Managua.

As late as May, even strong Sandinista supporters were expressing doubt about the numbers of people who would come out to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the revolution. In the weeks leading up to the 19th, however, thousands of Sandinista activists fanned out across Managua in house-to-house visits, urging people to come to the plaza and discussing problems and concerns.

Early the morning of the 19th, people started flooding into the plaza from all over the city—some on foot, with small children in tow, others packed onto the back of trucks, others in buses with flags and banners waving out the windows. Black and red kerchiefs, the uniform of the Sandinista combatants in 1979, were plentiful, and many people came with 10th anniversary t-shirts, caps, homemade sun visors and red and black hearts painted on their cheeks.

Observers in Managua put the crowd at between 250,000 and 350,000. The BBC radio service reported that one-tenth of Nicaragua's population had turned out. Unlike other anniversary celebrations, the 10th anniversary was a Managua celebration, and other cities and towns held their own festivities—all told, probably another 200,000 or so. Nonetheless, La Prensa reported a sparse 64,000—a figure, not surprisingly, picked up by much of the US media.

The Ministry of Defense reports 132 military actions throughout the country for July. It lists 32 contra deaths, 30 captured and notes that 9 took amnesty. The Nicaraguan army reportedly suffered 14 deaths.

Among the civilian population, the toll was 7 dead, 9 wounded and 15 kidnapped. Nicaraguan intelligence sources reported 59 overflights, including surveillance and radio-exploration flights, originating in the US, Honduras and the US Southern Command in Panama.

The Honduran Association of Coffee Producers is asking the United States to pay damages of some $13 million, the amount they estimate has been lost as a result of ongoing contra activity in key coffee growing regions of Honduras.

In a statement sent to the Central American presidential summit meeting at Tela, Honduras, the coffee growers said that "the contras would not exist if it weren't for the military and humanitarian aid provided by the United States, and therefore that government is directly responsible for any damages that the rebels cause."

The producers charge that, since the onset of the contra war, 11,000 small and medium coffee producers have been displaced from their lands by contra activity.

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